Today, according to the Christian liturgical calendar, is a holy day. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a forty day fast for Christians, or it used to. The forty days of Lent were created as a time to experience along with Jesus the fasting and trials of the desert, where he faced Satan and overcame every temptation thrown at him through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the earliest days of the church, the community would fast from all things except water over the time period leading up to Holy Week. These first Christians wanted to sacrifice the time and energy and to be drawn and vitally tied to God for all that they needed.
In the modern culture we live in, this is hardly celebrated anymore. Many times, if a Christian even proclaims a fast they are looked at awkwardly within the church body. But why has it become so odd, for a Christian to sacrifice?
The season of Lent requires that we fast. The fasting that the Lord requires is much more than a fast from Facebook, video games, MTV and chocolate. One of the scriptures that has become tied to the Lenten season is Isaiah 58. Below are the words.
1“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
As we read these words we see the depth of the fasting and sacrifice that God has called His people to live in and with. We are to be people who fast in a way that costs us something so others may experience God, and His love. In our world today, does a fast from chocolate show someone the love of God? Even more, Lent is not a second attempt at a failed New Year's Resolution. Lent is to be a time where we consider who we are, and who God is. Whenever we do that, we need to fast, and repent, and move forward into satisfying the needs of the oppressed, freeing the prisoner, feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless. These are the works that must come from fasting.
God goes on to say what the outcome of such fasting is in verse 11. God will satisfy your needs. Whenever we sacrifice and live as God has called us, we will be more than provided for.
So as you begin Lent, I want to leave you with the words of King David as he built an altar for God. 2 Samuel 24:24b "I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost nothing." David was a man after God's own heart, and Jesus came through the line of David. If we who are called by the name of Christ, give sacrifices that cost nothing, are we really sacrificing? Are we really following, are we really going to see God move?
This season, give a fast that God has called, and let Him satisfy all your needs!